News Round up: UI Design, Web fonts, Improve your language skills

I haven’t done a link round up in a bit but there have been some awesome articles around lately so I’ll pass them on.

The Little Things in UI Design

First up is a great article on the little things in User Interface design from Smashing magazine. It really is the little things that make a nice design amazing so go check out the post and polish up your thoughts on the little things.

Fonts on the Web

If you have worked on the web for a bit you have been highly frustrated by the state of typography online (or you put enough work into your typography). Web Designer Wall had a great post evaluating the techniques for displaying unique fonts on the web that is worth a read.

Get new Language Skills

I often say that I really need to learn the intricacies of PHP and not just the surfacy stuff. Nettuts has a great article on how to learn a new language fast. Since many of us have some extra time over Christmas using that time to learn a new language might be a good idea.

Google Custom Search

I recently added google custom search (CSE) as an advanced search on a clients store. While the standard search engine provided decent results it does a very poor job of eliminating useless words (the, a…). Since Goolge does an awesome job of providing relevant search results and the CSE is free we jumped on board.

To get Google CSE implemented check out a great article on Dosh Dosh that is very detailed. This is in fact where I started.

My first hurdle with implementation was that the site content was not indexed by google and no sitemap was generated either. Off I trucked to Godaddy’s admin panel and used their admin features to create a new sitemap.

index-now-800

 

Google CSE provides a mechanism for submitting a new sitemap for search indexing. Under the Google CSE control panel select ‘indexing’ and use the ‘On-demand indexing’ option near the bottom of the page. Point it at your new sitemap and you’re off to the races. Once your sitemap is submitted your site will be crawled in a few days.

Once your content is indexed you can actually test your search engine (testing instructions included in the Dosh Dosh article.)

The biggest problem I ran into while trying to get this working at my job was getting the width to fit inside my design. We are a non-profit organization and as such are eligible to use Google CSE without displaying any adds, which is were my problem really comes from.

With the Google CSE you are limited to a minimum size of 500px if you choose to display adds on the top and bottom and 795px if you display adds on the side of the search results. As I was not displaying adds I didn’t think that this would have any bearing on my implementation of it. Boy was I wrong.

If you need to get the results down to the minimum width of 500px you need to adjust two places in the code.forid-11-939

 

First off is in the form submission end of the process. The variable ‘forid’ needs to be changed to 11. ‘Forid’ is the variable that desinates where the adds will be placed. As I stated earlier, we were not displaying any adds so I didn’t even think about changing this. Also there is no clear documentation that this variable exists in the submission form portion of the Google CSE.

Once you have your variable changed (this is also possible when setting the form up by choosing to display adds on the top and bottom) you can go to the page you designated for results and change the actual frame width.search-frame-width-1051

 

Remember with the adds being displayed on the top and bottom your minimum width is 500px.

Apple Adds break Yahoo

Sounds fatalist I know but really it is a very cool piece of advertising that goes beyond just a video in a box. One of the latest Apple adds doesn’t just have a video inside a box it actually interacts with the menu items on the site.

This is obviously a very cool add that brings a whole new dimension to advertising on the web. Is this what companies need to do now that many web users aren’t even drawn to banners on the sides and tops of website? What do you think?

Just Fix the Problem Now Regardless of Cost

It would probably be a safe bet that you have a cell phone. It would also probably be a safe bet that at one point or another they have been less than stellar in their customer service. Whether it was billing or a DOA phone or dropping your message box it has happened. The worst part is not that is happens but that it takes them so long to fix the problem.

Personally I bought a new phone in August and have had all of the above. At one point it cost me over $3000 in lost work let alone the time I spent on the phone with Bell Canada. They have lost my message box, over billed me, and given me problems over a phone that didn’t work when I got it.

I am not a happy customer. I would not recommend their service. I will not buy a phone on contract again cause they essentially have my money garaunteed so they have no incentive to fix my problem.

This is totally contrary to how you want to deal with customers. We all know that word of mouth is the best way to get new clients or customers in the door. With the recommendation I gave above would you use Bell Canada? Probably not. The first time I called with a problem it should have been fixed the first time.

Blindly Good Customer Service

When I used to work sales the policy was that a happy customer would bring in their friends and their friends would purchase. I remember trading in for full value a 1 year old $4000 kayak that someone didn’t like. They had come in over the year to talk about the boat. We test paddled it with him gave him tips and he tried them all. At the end he sheepishly came back and said that it still wasn’t the right boat and we said okay let’s get you the right boat.
sea_kayak_panorama

The Payoff of Lost Income

With surprise on his face he asked how much he would get for the old one and we said full price at time of sale. More astonished he bought a boat for himself and upgraded his wife’s boat. Two weeks later his friends came in and boat two boats.

That $1000 loss in value of selling a used boat returned $15,000 in sales so it was well worth it. So how do you go over and above to provide service to your clients? How do you make sure that they’re you biggest fans? Short term loss can win long term relationships.

Working with Integrity

At the end of the day I design and build website for the money. I have to eat, pay the mortgage, do fun stuff and money is what pays for that. I don’t think anyone would begrudge me this because we all realize that today money is what makes the world go around.

At what point do we put money aside to provide good service to our customers? For me it’s always a concern. Right now I have a contract to upgrade a blog to WordPress 2.6.5 which is entirely fine. The problem is that we are on the cusp of WordPress 2.7 being release (I am using 2.7 RC1 right now). While it would entirely fulfill the terms of my contract to go ahead and upgrade the client to 2.6.5 I just don’t think it is correct.

How would the client feel if I contacted them next week to let them know that 2.7 came out and I will upgrade it for $XX. I be they would feel ripped off. I certainly would.

Remember that your clients trust you to give them the best advice. Sometimes that advice may run contrary to what is best financially to you. It can be a tough decision to make.

Wordpress 2.7 RC1
Wordpress 2.7 RC1

At the end of the day I always figure that providing better customer service will bring better returns long run so. My client will be getting 2.7 RC1 next Thursday if 2.7 is not fully released (testing on a sub domain with their theme and content now). Then when when 2.7 comes out fully I will perform the upgrade again at no charge. That way I fulfill my contract and provide a bit extra service. Of course I drop that in an email quickly and it looks good to the client that I have given them extra service. At the end of the day they are more likely to refer people to me if I have gone beyond expectations.

Anyone else have struggles between providing service and meeting the bottom line?

Scope Creep and the In House Designer

At one time or another each freelancer must deal with a client regarding the question of scope creep. As freelancer’s it can be easier to put your foot down, assuming you have a contract, and say no to added features at the same price. But what does an in house designer do? They don’t have the option of just saying no. They don’t get to charge more for their time. In my experience, they still have to meet the same deadlines. So how does can an in house designer stop scope creep in their projects?

Talk to the Boss

To start with I would suggest that any in house designer talk to their project manager, if you’re lucky enough to have one, about the problem. That is what I did the first time it happened in one of my projects. Sitting down with your project manager, or boss, and talking about the problems that come up with adding ‘just one more thing’ to each project can get you a long way.

Statement of Work

Just as any freelancer would do, an in house designer needs to create a document that maps out the scope of each project. At my job we fill out a proper creative brief for every project and then list out the requirements and get it approved by the involved parties. It includes due dates and a statement reminding them that any added features moves the due date.

This upfront work in organizing a project gets everyone on the same page. If this type of process is not in place where you work it can be an uncomfortable thing to implement but in the long run everyone will be much happier.

Get Help & Put your Nose to the Stone

At the end of the day despite your best planning sometimes features will be added and dates will stay firm. At that point you really don’t have a choice but to put your nose to the grind stone and maybe hire some outside help.

This feature creep with no due date creep is a perfect opportunity to hire freelancers. Since it is not possible for you to get the extra work done in the same amount of time extra money will need to be spent to hit the due date. Hiring outside help also helps people realize the effect that ‘one more thing’ can have on a project.

I have actually had the boss no longer require a feature once the cost of a freelancer was factored in. It will get done but in the second stage of site launch not the first.

So in house designers/developers how do you avoid scope creep?

Interesting Links: CSS trickery

CSS Image Trickery

Both of these articles come from the newest addition to my RSS feeds sohtanaka.com. First off is an article on adding effects to images with some CSS and HTML. Pretty neat and shows much of what you can do without encasing the entire effect in an image.

The second article from sohtanaka.com deals with a double repeating background image on a header. Another very good piece of CSS and image trickery to achieve a specific effect.

Photoshop Texture Brushes

A pretty cool set of Free Photoshop brushes is available from a friend over at Design by Firgs. Free to use but don’t distribute or sell them yourself.

Staying in Sync

Many designer use gmail and I also use Google Calendar cause I can sync it everywhere. Now google just released a cool tool to make syncing gcal and ical easier. Wish I had this last week when I synced up my gcal at work and my freelance and my mobile and my PC at home. Ah well the work is done.

Is it too Early to Launch your Website?

Who here has launched a project prematurely? (my hand was the first up). When you start putting work into a project you get excited about it. You set a deadline for finishing the project and work very hard to stick to it. Sometimes despite our best efforts we have 90% of the project done. Sure we could launch it on delivery day but it wouldn’t be the best work that has been done. In fact it probably would speak better of your ethics and professionalism to get a short extension.

The reality is that before launching any project you should perform a quick evaluation to make sure that it will reflect well on your professionalism and well on you clients business.

Is the site feature complete

When ever I start a large project I make a list of all features required for launch, kind of like the development road map. If the project warrants it I will make a list of all items required for launch and a list for the second stage of development that lists all of the little things that can be added once the site is live and are not required for release of the site.

Road Map  you site
Road Map you site

The first step to evaluating whether you are ready to launch a site is to look back at all of your required items and ask yourself if in fact they are done. If all of the required items are not done then you need to think seriously about moving the deadline back so that you can get all of the items that are required put on the done list.

Sometimes you may look back at the list and after some deliberation with the client decided that they are in fact not required for the site to launch (mobile stylsheets come to mind). If both of you can agree that the site can launch without some items that are not done currently then move forward and launch it. Ultimately the final decision is up to the client it is your job to advise them to the best of your ability.

Validate

Next up is to make sure that all of the code validates. Now I know that some things (moz-border) don’t validate but to a reasonable level you should make sure that your code validates or has a good reason not to. As I alluded to above a bit of a flourish for Firefox and Webkit, in my opinion, are acceptable reasons for you code not to validate. You should ensure that these little flourishes are not required for proper functioning of the site.

Testing 1,2,3…

There are always some bugs in code. It’s written by humans it can’t be helped. There are also things you will have designed to work a certain way that seemed obvious to both you and the client at the time that will not make any sense to the end user. That is why any site should be thoroughly tested before it goes live. You don’t want your users finding all but the most obscure bugs.

Testing should not only be done by you since your not a typical user and you already know how things work. Your site should be tested by the typical user of the site. It should be tested by the client, I know that they are often not the typical user either but they should have the opportunity to ask questions about why things work the way they do.

Happy Client

As I said in the first evaluation item, ultimately launch is up to the client and the web designer/developer should be advising them. If the client is happy with the site and wants to launch it despite problems that you see then you have to launch it. I would suggest that in this instance you get in writting that they wanted to launch the site despite your recommendation. That way if it blows up you have documentation that it was their decision.

Do you do anything to check your sites that wasn’t mentioned? Leave it in the comments to enlighten us all.